academic freedom at Harvard

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Wed Nov 13 10:20:36 PST 2002

Chronicle of Higher Education - web daily - November 13, 2002

Harvard U.'s English Department Cancels Lecture by Poet Who Has Strongly Criticized Israel By MEGAN ROONEY

Harvard University's English department has canceled a lecture planned for Thursday by Tom Paulin, an award-winning poet and professor at the University of Oxford, after complaints from students and faculty members about Mr. Paulin's political views, particularly his harsh critiques of Israel.

Mr. Paulin, who grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is well-known in Britain for his political opinions on the Middle East and the conflict in Northern Ireland. He published a poem in The Observer newspaper in February 2001, in which he called Israeli soldiers a "Zionist SS" and intimated that they slaughter Palestinian boys. Recently, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram published an interview with Mr. Paulin in which he allegedly said that he feels "nothing but hatred" for "Brooklyn-born" Jewish settlers. "They should be shot dead," he is quoted as saying. "I think they are Nazis, racists."

Mr. Paulin was to have delivered the annual Morris Gray poetry lecture for Harvard's English department on Thursday, but the department announced earlier this week that the lecture had been canceled.

Department officials "sincerely regret the widespread consternation that has arisen as a result of this invitation, which had been originally decided on last winter solely on the basis of Mr. Paulin's lifetime accomplishments as a poet," Lawrence Buell, chairman of the English department, wrote in an announcement on the department's Web site. He was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Robert Mitchell, a spokesman for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, said he was not certain what criticism the English department had received for inviting Mr. Paulin. Mr. Mitchell said that he had received a few e-mail messages from students who were angered and upset by the invitation.

The National Review published a column on Tuesday decrying the invitation to Mr. Paulin and summarizing Mr. Paulin's public statements about Israel. The column also included statements from unidentified Harvard faculty members expressing distress at Mr. Paulin's scheduled lecture.

Mr. Mitchell was not sure about the veracity of the Al-Ahram interview, and he said that several faculty members have said that Mr. Paulin is opposed to anti-Semitism -- something that Mr. Paulin has said frequently in print. Mr. Mitchell could not say if there were other statements by or interviews with Mr. Paulin that had alarmed students and faculty members.

He emphasized that Mr. Paulin and the English department decided together to cancel the lecture after several private discussions.

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